CARL HOGG has made three personnel changes, plus two positional switches, to the Scotland Under-20s side which lost their Six Nations opener against Italy at Netherdale last Friday night, ahead of facing Ireland at the same venue this coming Friday.
Ewan Ashman comes in at hooker for Finlay Scott, who dislocated his shoulder versus Italy and will take no further part in the campaign; while Cameron Henderson is promoted to the second-row, with Charlie Jupp shifting to blind-side flanker, Kwagga Van Niekirk moving to No 8 and Jack Mann dropping to the bench.
“I see Connor Boyle as an out-and-out seven, and Kwagga gives us that power, and Charlie is probably a modern-day hybrid who can play both second-row and number six, so I think it just gives us a bit more balance in the back-row,” explained Hogg.
Meanwhile, in the back-line, Ayr’s Ollie Smith, who was unable to train during the first part of the week due to a bruised calf, is replaced at full-back by Rufus McLean of Watsonians, who scored a try off the bench against Italy. “Rufus looked particularly sharp off the bench having been out for a wee while,” said Hogg. “It will be interesting to see him getting up to match speed on Friday night.”
Matt Davidson of London Scottish joins the replacements.
The Italian game was a frustrating experience for the young Scots. They started slowly and gifted their opponents some easy points in the first half, but they flew out the traps after the break to score two well-worked tries which snatched a 17-11 lead, only to let it slip away again through a combination of poor decision-making, poor execution and poor discipline.
Hogg is in no doubt that his side will have to raise their game considerably across the full 80-minutes if they are to get anything out of Friday’s appointment, against an Ireland side which started their Six Nations campaign with an impressive victory over England.
“They’ve got high line-speed, and they like to stay nice and compressed defensively and challenge you round the breakdown,” he said. “We watched their game on Friday night and they look a very competent side with a very intense, suffocating defence and really good basic skills, so we’ll have to be at our best to challenge them.
“But I think there is huge room for improvement for us. You’re never quite sure how much information and how many behaviours from training hold going into a match, but we’ve clearly identified things we can work on and things we can do better, and we’re looking forward to putting that into practice on Friday.
Hogg added that he will be urging his boys to draw inspiration from the way the England senior side countered Ireland’s strengths last Saturday.
“When you look at the [Ireland] Under-20s, you will see a carbon-copy of their Test team – they’ve got very similar traits – and that clearly comes through their youth system,” he said. “They’ve got threats over the ball defensively – all the time, from one to 15 – which is pretty unique. And they’ve got high line-speed. But that does offer opportunities, and I think the English Test team exploited that particularly well last Saturday, so that’s clearly an area we have identified and an area we are looking to challenge.”
Scotland U20 team to face Ireland U20 at Netherdale in the U20 Six Nations on Friday 8 February (kick-off 7.30pm): Rufus McLean (Watsonians); Rory McMichael (Heriot’s), Cameron Anderson (Wasps), Robbie McCallum (Complutense Cisneros), Jack Blain (Heriot’s); Ross Thompson (Glasgow Hawks) VICE-CAPTAIN, Roan Frostwick (Currie Chieftains); Sam Grahamslaw (Leicester Tigers), Ewan Ashman (Sale Sharks), Murphy Walker (Stirling County), Cameron Henderson (Stirling County), Ewan Johnson (Racing 92), Charlie Jupp (Heriot’s), Connor Boyle (Watsonians) CAPTAIN, Kwagga Van Niekirk (Lions). Subs: Angus Fraser (Glasgow Hawks), Andrew Nimmo (Glasgow Hawks), Euan McLaren (Ayr), Ross Bundy (Stirling County), Jack Mann (Edinburgh Accies), Kyle McGhie (Musselburgh), Nathan Chamberlain (Bristol Bears), Mat Davidson (London Scottish).